Mercedes Varnado is now the queen of two fandoms. While ruling the ring as WWE Superstar Sasha Banks, she was secretly kickstarting a whole new career in an arena even bigger than Wrestlemania's — Star Wars. Varnado played Koska Reeves, a Mandalorian fighting alongside iconic Star Wars hero Bo-Katan Kryze.
In Chapter 11 of The Mandalorian, Varnado got to dive into the mouth of a mamacore, eat some not-quite-dead seafood, and hijack an Imperial ship. All in a day's work for Mando himself, but it was quite the change for Varnado.
"When they told me that I was going to be saving baby Yoda, that I would be eating an octopus, that I would be kicking butt and be part of this amazing team, I was like, oh my god," she tells Inverse. "Life is so cool and life is so special."
After her guest-starring role, Varnado discusses her history with Star Wars, how the fans have reacted, and her dream team-up for a possible future arc on The Mandalorian.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
First of all, what was it like working with Baby Yoda?
Oh my gosh. It was so freaking cool. It was definitely a dream come true because in person it just, it feels like a real person. It moves, it has all these different facial expressions. He is the star of the show. So he takes over the whole set. He is amazing.
You have a little moment with him in the episode.
I get to save him. When I found out I got to save him, I freaked out. I just thought there's no fricking way. I couldn't even believe that I was chosen to be part of Star Wars coming from WWE. I'm just so, so thankful because, Yoda in general and the Star Wars universe is so iconic and legendary. But this Baby Yoda, the Child, it just brings a whole new presence into the Star Wars world. And to get to save him, I was just like, you know what? You go do that. You do the thing.
“When I found out I got to save him, I freaked out.”
How is working on The Mandalorian different from the WWE?
The set was so real that I literally thought I was part of the galaxy. I could walk on set and run into something because it just was so, so real. So I saw everything really, really clearly, as you saw, I killed the monster and I did save the baby child. So I was good.
Did your wrestling training prepare you for that?
Absolutely. I am so thankful for the WWE. I was so nervous and so scared to do something so different. John Favreau told me, "You know what? You do this live every single week. You do WWE. You have to just sit in front of an audience all around the world. You're going to be fine. You're special. You're going to be awesome." So he helped me as well.
He really ensured that I was going to do great in my first ever role, but WWE prepared me for the fighting, for the patience, for the acting, and for just bringing your presence to the set. And bringing good energy, because everybody that I worked with was so incredible.
It was so hard for me as well because I was doing both, I had legit zero days off. So I can say I'm just so thankful for everything.
What was your knowledge of Star Wars before you even cast in this role?
I used to watch it as a child with my brother who has autism. So my first one was with Anakin Skywalker and Darth Maul. When I was a kid with him, I used to paint his face for Halloween because he used to love it so much. But then I turned ten and then I fell in love with wrestling. I fell out of the Star Wars realm.
When I got the call and they asked me to be part of it, I was still nervous. I'm like, "Wait, do I have to catch up? Do I have time?" And they're like, "No, no, it's different, it's unique, it's exciting." But now with the pandemic, I have all this time to catch up and I'm just so in love with it again, like a child. It's so cool.
Have you been watching The Clone Wars?
I've been watching The Clone Wars and The Mandalorian every single week, like a stan.
I was so incredibly nervous when they told me that I was going to be a part of the trailer. Then I watched it, I was like, Oh my goodness. I look so mysterious. People are going to freak out and not even know who I am. And then when I went into work, everyone's like, "You're a Jedi! you're a Jedi! you're a Jedi!" I was like, Oh my gosh, I can't say anything.
“I'm so thankful to be a Mandalorian.”
Then the fans as well were making so many speculations. I got to see some of that. I try to not stay on the internet too much, I let you guys just have fun with that. It's so incredibly cool to see the response after. Oh my gosh, my fans are so cool.
I'm so thankful for the WWE universe for supporting me, but the Star Wars fans, they're just so nice to me, so sweet. I instantly got tagged in so many pictures that fans made. And they made really cool, like quick little music videos. I was like, Whoa, this is pretty unique and awesome. I'm just so thankful that they weren't disappointed that I wasn't something that they thought I was going to be. I'm so thankful to be a Mandalorian.
If you could have a season-long arc with any other Mandalorian character, who would you pick?
You know, I have to stick with Bo-Katan. She is my girl and I have her back completely. That's who I'm going to have to stick with, but I love Katee in person. Katee Sackhoff, who played Bo-Katan and did her voice as well, she helped me so much on set and she is just so incredible, as you saw in the episode. Man, she is just so inspirational. She is... ugh. She killed it. She was amazing.
After the episode, I couldn't stop texting her. I was like, "Oh my God, Katie. You're amazing. You're great. You're awesome." She was like, "Thank you, but I haven't watched yet. I'm so nervous!"
The Mandalorian Season 2 is now streaming on Disney+.